In a press release, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have called on the Slovak authorities “to step up their investigation into businessman Marián Kočner’s repeated harassment of journalists and his possible role in the murder of the young investigative reporter Ján Kuciak”.
The businessman who has been in pre-trial custody since June on suspicion of fraud had also threatened Kuciak. The journalist repeatedly followed Kočner’s activities and wrote about them, RSF suggest, adding the businessman was very close to one of the four people arrested in September on suspicion of being involved in the murder of Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, on February 21.
The cunning businessman
“He acted in an extremely sophisticated manner,” prosecutor Ján Šanta told the Supreme Court in June, according to RSF, when seeking Kočner’s preventive detention for the purposes of an investigation into his fraudulent activities. “He is expanding his criminal activities. He issued an astronomical sum, a total of 69 million euros, in fraudulent promissory notes, something never seen in the Slovak or Czech Republics. I am absolutely convinced that if his personal freedom is not restricted, he will pursue his criminal activities and pose an obstacle to the investigation.”
Kuciak had explored some of his activities and after getting in touch with Kočner, “was directly threatened with reprisals if he published his information”.
“All possible light must be shed on Marián Kočner’s activities, including his harassment of Slovak media outlets and his potential involvement in Ján Kuciak’s murder,” said Pauline Adès-Mevel, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “We hail the progress made in the investigation into this double murder, but it must be pursued to the end. The authorities must send a clear message that they are going to stop the obstructions to press freedom and to guarantee the safety of Slovak journalists against predators like Marián Kočner. Slovakia cannot tolerate another tragedy.”
Pertaining to harassment of journalists
Kočner’s methods included smear campaigns, and Kuciak became one of his targets after he named the businessman repeatedly in his articles, RSF wrote, adding that when Kuciak contacted Kočner in September 2017 about the sale of an apartment in the building where then-prime minister Robert Fico lived, Kočner said: “Mr. Kuciak, I am going to take an interest in your family, your mother, your father, your brothers and sisters, and I will publish absolutely everything I find out about you.”
He added, referring to a Denník N reporter: “You will be the first. I will give you preference over Ms. Monika Tódová.”
Police do not act
The international organisation stresses they have the knowledge thanks to Kuciak recording the call and using the recording to file a criminal complaint against Kočner.
“But the police did not investigate it,” RSF noted, and added that after Kuciak’s murder, the police acknowledged that they had not questioned Kočner about this threat. They acknowledged it again after Kočner was detained and questioned in the fraud investigation.
Kočner’s threats and attacks on Slovak journalists intensified whenever they pressed ahead with their reporting on his activities, according to Reporters without Borders.
“His response to a revelation by #AllForJan, an international media consortium created in March to pursue Kuciak’s investigations, is particularly noteworthy,” RSF wrote.
As the organisation continued, after the consortium revealed that 500,000 euros were deposited in Kočner’s personal account by Technopol Servis, a Bratislava-based company that had been the victim of fraud, Kočner was contacted for a reaction by Adam Valček, a journalist with the Sme daily and a member of the consortium. Kočner’s response was to send Valček an email detailing confidential information about his health and his relations with his family, sensitive information that Kočner could not have obtained from public sources.
Kočner had the email exchange posted on Hlavnespravy.sk, a leading Slovak website specialising in disinformation, and used it in his own online video programme, which he used to make fun of “mainstream media” journalists, RSF pointed out.
Within two months, this video and other material produced by Kočner were viewed tens of thousands of times. After Valček filed a criminal complaint, the police began an investigation into suspected blackmail.
RSF tried repeatedly to contact Kočner’s lawyers to ask them about his actions, but they never responded.
Slovakia has fallen ten places in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 27th out of 180 countries, the journalist organisation summed up.
29. Oct 2018 at 14:08 | Compiled by Spectator staff